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Reading: Alternative Possibilities and Epistemic Modality


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Alternative Possibilities and Epistemic Modality


Jonas Hollstein


The Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP) states that an agent is morally responsible for an action only if she could have done otherwise. Harry Frankfurt provided an argument which, he thinks, shows that the PAP is false. I argue that the PAP-condition can be interpreted such that Frankfurt’s argument against the PAP can be rejected. Commonly, the PAP-condition is interpreted using a concept of modality which is mindindependent. I rely on an epistemic interpretation of the PAP-condition: The ‘bare’ epistemic modal in the condition should be interpreted using a version of Contextualism – its semantic content and truth value rigidly referring to a context-specific relevant group. My aim is to show that, on a generic version of Contextualism, Frankfurt’s argument against the PAP does not hold: It rests on two possible causal histories. Both result in the agent deciding to perform and performing the same action. In one case, the agent can be morally responsible. In the other, it is plausible to assume that the agent is not morally responsible. This is due to a difference in the relevant groups with respect to which the PAPcondition is interpreted
How to Cite: Hollstein, J., 2019. Alternative Possibilities and Epistemic Modality. Rerum Causae, 10(2), pp.31–45.
Published on 14 Sep 2019.
Peer Reviewed


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